Gulf Coast Claimants Irked By BP's Delays


Twin sisters Sheila Newman (left) and Sheryl Lindsay of Orange Beach, Ala., make their case to a BP claims adjuster. The wedding planners have been trying since June to get BP to pay for lost income from the oil spill.
Twin sisters Sheila Newman (left) and Sheryl Lindsay of Orange Beach, Ala., make their case to a BP claims adjuster. The wedding planners have been trying since June to get BP to pay for lost income from the oil spill. Debbie Elliott/NPR

Many coastal residents are fighting for their economic survival -- and expect BP to keep them afloat. For three months, BP has been promising to make "whole" anyone who has lost income because of the oil spill. Last week, BP announced an expedited process, but claimants say it's anything but quick.

On the Gulf Coast, what was once a cleanup of unprecedented scope is scaling back now that BP has cemented-in its leaking well. As the focus shifts to recovery, many coastal residents are fighting for their economic survival -- and expect BP to keep them afloat.

For three months, BP has been promising to make "whole" anyone who has lost income because of the oil spill. At a recent workshop in Orange Beach, Ala., BP Vice President Kris Sliger reiterated the company's commitment.

"We will make whatever resources are necessary to deal with all legitimate claims," Sliger said.

BP just made its first deposit -- $3 billion -- into its $20 billion oil spill compensation fund Monday and has paid out just about $300 million in claims. But more than 100,000 people are still waiting to hear about their claims. But many at the Orange Beach workshop hadn't seen any money yet. They were holding stacks of papers and said they're getting the runaround.

"Ten meetings, every time I met, we're going to have a check today. At the end of the meeting, one more document. So my name is one more document. What do you want?" Sliger was asked by John Daversa, who rents out condominiums on Alabama's Gulf coast.

"As you've described it, the service is not acceptable," Sliger replied.

Last week, BP announced an expedited claims process and staged sessions all along the Gulf Coast.

"During this workshop, if you're willing to sit down with us, we will take your claim number, we will give you personal service," Sliger said. "We will find a way to pay your claim, assuming it's a legitimate claim."

In a room lined with tables of adjusters, twin sisters Sheila Newman and Sheryl Lindsay took him up on the offer.

"We'd like to know what is the criteria that we're supposed to fall under," they asked. "We're with Orange Beach weddings. We do destination weddings. Beach weddings. On the beach."

Adjuster Luke Sharbono told them if they do business on the beach, they should qualify.

"How recently have you spoken with your adjuster in Hammond?" Sharbono asked.

"Probably Monday or Tuesday," Newman replied.

"What I suggest, is just get back in contact with him," Sharbono said.

"Why can't you answer us, though?" Newman asked. "That's what we're asking. You have all our paperwork. We're closing our doors. We're losing everything we have within the next week. We need help today."

The sisters are on edge. They've lost 15 weddings this summer, and brides are not calling to book for next year.

Shelia Newman said she understands: "Why add oil on top of their wedding stress? An oil issue? It is a hard sell."

The sisters have to sell their picture frames, linens and chair covers just to pay outstanding bills. They're moving out of their storefront this week.

They filed their first claim for $11,000 in June and were denied two weeks later. Now they've been told their case is on hold.

Their last hope is that BP finally issues them a check.

"This is our lives. We live here. This is our business, and our families are here," Newman said. "Are we supposed to just move to another area and forget about what they've done?"

"We are too old to start over," Lindsay added.

Armed with a pen and a tiny Post-it notepad, adjuster Sharbono took down the wedding planners' claim number.

"I'll personally look into it, ladies," Sharbono told them.

After the meeting, Lindsay said she'd heard that before.

"They have trained them to say the same thing. All they're doing is looking into it. They get you up again, thinking they'll take care of it. We'll see. I hope we can call you Tuesday and we have a check, but I don't believe it," Lindsay added.

Some businesses have given up on BP altogether and say they'll wait until claims czar Ken Feinberg takes over later this month.

Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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